A Boy Called Christmas
By Mary Eisenhart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Death, gore, peril, and pee in traumatic Santa origin story.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
A few references to Scandinavian countries, at the time so sparsely populated that only eight people live in Norway.
Amid the death, violence, bathroom humor, and the like, there are oft-repeated messages about kindness, the joy of giving, spreading that joy around, and showing goodwill to all. Also believing in magic, and that there's no such thing as impossible, as magical thinking overcomes any obstacle. Greed is frowned upon.
Positive Role Models
Nikolas shows kindness to mouse Miika, to reindeer Blitzen (wounded by an arrow), and assorted elves, and shows great courage, determination, and quick thinking in freeing a kidnapped elf boy from his captors. His memories of his long-dead mother inspire him with the joy of giving. His father is led to evil ways because he wants to have enough money so he and his son won't live in poverty, but comes to realize he's done wrong. Most elves are kind, hardworking, creative craftspeople who start by taking in Nikolas and become the force behind Santa's workshop. Blitzen the reindeer pees on people for fun, quite a lot. The creepy aunt who's supposed to be taking care of Nikolas is not only entirely self-centered, she's mean for the pure fun of it.
Violence & Scariness
Before the story begins, Nikolas' mother dies protecting him from a bear (who continues to pop up in the story). His father also meets a dramatic, violent death, after he's participated in the kidnapping and imprisonment of an elf boy. The elves imprison Nikolas with a murderous pixie and a troll who plans to eat him. Thanks to a poison nurtured by the pixie, the troll's head literally explodes, with much gore and grossness. A hunter shoots a reindeer character with an arrow and later jokes about it when against all odds, the reindeer lives and re-enters the hunter's life. Nikolas' only toy and friend is a turnip carved to look like a doll, a last present from his dead mom -- so his mean aunt makes it into a soup and doesn't tell him till he's eaten it. The leader of the elves is a hostile fellow who sent his kindhearted predecessor on an assignment where she was quickly devoured.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Lots of bathroom humor, mostly involving Blitzen's weaponized pee (called "wee" here because it's British) skills.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A Boy Called Christmas, now adapted for a Netflix movie, is a Father Christmas origin story, but maybe not the nice cozy tale you're expecting. Lead character Nikolas, the 11-year-old son of a poor Finnish woodcutter, eventually becomes the figure we now know as Santa Claus, magical giver of toys, spreader of goodwill, and friend to all -- but not before he's lost both parents to violent death, been imprisoned by elves, and only saved from being eaten by a troll by the fact that the troll's head explodes, with much gore. Blitzen the reindeer pees on people for fun, so there's plenty of bathroom humor. Nikolas shows selfless courage when he rescues an elf boy kidnapped by greed-driven humans, and there are frequently repeated messages about goodwill, kindness, and how the joy of giving and belief in magic make everything better -- "Papa, please. Toys are great. But being good is better than being rich." But it's an uneasy, half-baked mix of trauma, silliness, and gross-out humor that may traumatize more than delight some young readers expecting a nice Santa story.
Where to Read
Based on 1 parent review
A very dark Christmas tale.
Report this review
What's the Story?
A BOY CALLED CHRISTMAS is really named Nikolas, but he was born on Christmas Day to a poor Finnish woodcutter and his wife, who always called him "Christmas." His mother dies protecting him from a bear when he's very young, but he cherishes her memory -- and the turnip she gave him, carved to look like a doll, as a rare Christmas present. His father goes off on an expedition that promises riches, an end to poverty, and adventure among the elves, leaving Nikolas in the "care" of his cruel Aunt Carlotta. Soon the 11-year-old leaves home in search of his father, accompanied by a mouse and a reindeer. Stumbling across the land of the elves, he's soon imprisoned with a troll who plans to eat him and a pixie whose idea of fun is watching heads explode. Literally.
Is It Any Good?
Matt Haig's Santa origin story may not be every kid's Christmas dish, what with its mix of dead parents, exploding troll heads, greedy kidnappers, and reindeer pee among the uplifting messages. But A Boy Called Christmas, aka 11-year-old Nikolas, survives peril and trauma, shows courage and kindness, and finds ways to put magic to work spreading the joy of giving around the world. Black-and-white illustrations by Chris Mould bring the winter scenes and quirky characters to life.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Santa Claus, who he is, and how he came to be such a big part of Christmas celebrations. Many different versions appear in different places and cultures -- how do you think A Boy Called Christmas compares with others you may know?
Would you change your name (as a character does in this story) if you found out it meant something gross in another language?
Much of the story deals with rebuilding the trust between humans and elves after the humans committed a terrible betrayal. If someone who once trusted you no longer does -- rightly or wrongly -- what might you do to mend things?
- Author: Matt Haig
- Illustrator: Chris Mould
- Genre: Holiday
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Friendship, Holidays
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Knopf
- Publication date: November 1, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 240
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: December 2, 2021
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Where to Read
Our Editors Recommend
Fantasy Books for Kids
Holiday Books for Kids
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate